A Woman's Work is Never Done


My mother was "chief cook and bottle washer" as the saying goes. She was always instrumental in initiating a project that needed attention. As an example, she dug a 2' deep trench, filled it with barn yard decomposed manure, then more ground, to plant her asparagus roots. This bed remains to this day. She planted a grove of evergreens north east of the house and these trees are alive yet today also. The folks planted a large apple orchard in our back yard, mainly Hybernals, a soft tart variety. She would hire the threshers (usually John Boesen), took food dozens of times by buggy to Skiles seven miles. She spent many hours washing clothes over a wash board and she had a large garden from which came all the vegetables for the family table. In those days nothing was bought at the store.

When the reaper was introduced, she stood on the platform. As the horses pulled the reaper, the standing grain would fall on the platform, she quickly grabbed an arm full of grain, pulled off a few strands to make a tie (no twine available) wrap it around the arm full of grain and make a knot and throw it away and grab the next one. Even before they had the reaper, the men would cut the grain by hand. After this, the bundles had to be shocked. I remember shocking grain on Carl's farm near their house. The bundles were mixed with wild pea vines and the bundles clung together, so it took two of us to pull them apart. In the fail, I helped her shock corn. We used a saw horse to set the first bundles against so they wouldn't tip over. The bundles were so heavy, I could barely lift them, but I got orders to help!

My mother was an excellent cook. This was most remarkable because her mother died when she was 10 years old and she had no one to train her in how to keep house. She did have one great advantage though. My dad had lived in Chicago as a young man and had eaten different foods. He would tell her how something looked and tasted. She then would experiment until it look and tasted just right. From this cooperative endeavor grew such delicacies as: apple, prune and Kaess kuchens, Flatchen, donuts, cookies, wheels of different cheeses, and a variety of pies. My mother never wrote down a recipe. Everything was done by memory. And most of it by a sense of feel and touch-a scoop of flour, a pinch of salt, a chuck of lard, etc. Some of her recipes will be included at the end of this book. Her recipes never contained amounts of flour or shortening, but as a class project at District #72, Della had us write out a recipe book. So I wrote out Ma's recipes, plus some others from neighbor ladies and inserted approximate amounts where ever I could. Dad had turned Catholic, and so as not to make the Friday's of no meat less taxing, she always baked him a pie. And of course, pie was her favorite dessert because she tasted her first pie in New York when her family landed in 1866.

Ma boarded teachers who taught at our school District #72 such as: Madge Nichols, Georgia and Belle Cutten (from Evansville who in later years stopped in to see my mother) and John Kelly, my second grade teacher. Ma was denied an education, so she wanted her children to be exposed to as much learning as possible. She boarded them for $8.00 per month, packed them a lunch and in the winter or inclement weather, took them by team to the school which was about 2-1/2 miles away.

One time she took a full wagon of our apples to Schwantz's store in Evansville and got rid of the whole load. Speaking of apples, a band of Gypsies would often camp between us and Meissner's in a grove of wild plum trees. A Gypsy lady and a small girl came to the door and asked if they could have a chicken; she had a sick Grandma in camp and wished to make her chicken soup. To which my mother replied, "Chicken soup isn't good for Grandma's. " Then she wanted to know if Ma would give her some bread. Ma said, "you can bake your own bread. " Then she looked Out at the orchard and saw the apples hanging on the trees and asked if they could have some. Ma said, "If you pick them yourselves." So the lady and the child started to pick, but they tore in so vigorously that the branches and all came down and Ma said, "GET OUT OF THERE. " And they did!

Before I leave the subject of apples, I wish to include here that ma's mince meat was the best I've ever eaten. It was made in earthen jars and had the best aroma When I lifted off the covering, the mixture of apples, raisins and spices would make my mouth water. I've tried to imitate her recipe but never the same result. I now believe the apples made the difference. The Hybernal is a very sour, tart, mealy apple, giving the mincemeat a tang and yet the apples cooked up quickly because they were put into the mincemeat raw. Ma's grandson Charles Wilken, has continued with some of her recipes. He has made her mincemeat and has given us an ample supply of homemade sauerkraut Both turned out to be of excellent quality!

Another big project of farm life was butchering in the fall, usually several hogs and a steer. The butchering was done in the fall when the daytime temperatures dropped because there wasn't any easy way to preserve the meat and we needed meat, especially for those in hard labor to sustain their energy. After the animals were slaughtered, the fat from the hogs got rendered and the resulting lard was kept in large 20 gallon stone jars. The rendered lard was very white and had a sweet rich smell to it. This lard became a food staple in baking bread, cake, frying donuts, in a pan for frying potatoes, etc. But never on bread, although some families did.

As a young girl, I helped strip the animal casings; not too pleasant a job! The intestines first had to be emptied and flushed out with water. Then they were turned inside out and scraped until they were white and almost transparent. These casings were used to make sausage. Carl and I would make the sausage rings and after awhile we would get silly. He would crank the sausage stuffer real fast; I would hold the casing end as it slid off the metal tube and ZIP a "long wuscht" of sausage would scoot out on the table. The sausage was then hung in the smoke house to be "cured. " The hams and bacon were put into a strong salt brine for many weeks and then also smoked. Sometimes they were left hanging in the smokehouse, or if the weather turned too warm, they were dug down into the grain bin. Remember, this meat had to last us during the spring and summer months until the next fall season. The beef was canned, or as some families did, fry it down and place it in stone jars.

One other event I wish to relate about the hard times in the "good old days. " As I said previously, ma hired the threshers. This event took place later in the fall, after the grain had been cut, shocked and stacked. Then the threshers came into play. I was about 12 years old at the time and I told ma the night before that I would get up in the morning to help her make breakfast for the crew, as I felt sorry for her to get up so early and work so hard. However, I was more like my dad, a night owl, I loved to stay up late at night and hated to get up in the morning. Well, at 4 a.m. ma calls me to get up and I was so sleepy I just floated around. The men were sleeping in the west room upstairs and would be up for breakfast at 5. Especially the fireman who had to build a fire in the steam engine to produce the steam to power the rig. There were potatoes to peel and fry, meat to cut and fry, table to set, etc. During the day forenoon lunch was brought out to the men, dinner to make for them, afternoon lunch and again supper in the evening. While all this was taking place, she baked bread, made two dish pans of donuts and two pies for dinner along with washing the dishes, etc.

The first day the threshers were by us, ma and I went out to the fresh straw pile to gather straw to fill the ticks. The straw pricked my arms and the chaff dust got into my hair. I hated this job!!! The ticks were then carried upstairs into the west room where the men were to sleep on them. What a life!

Ma possessed an uncanny talent to appreciate value and quality. This is evident in the choices she made. She bought a new set of dishes for Annie's wedding from Tony Lorsung's store, a complete set of twelve, including teeny butter dishes. The design of the dishes is white and around the edges of the plates and bowls are small bluish-green garlands intertwined with small bows and flowers etched in touches of gold. The vegetable bowls are very irregular and ornate in shape. We are using the set yet today (over 90 years old). She purchased a roll top desk with a library above enclosed with glass paneled doors from Jake Tamble in Brandon and also the oak table large enough to seat twelve comfortably and the six chairs from him too. While in Minneapolis, visiting the Goehner's, she purchased a white oak bedroom set and my Ivers and Pond baby grand piano. For the large living room she bought a Victorian love seat and matching chair and rocker and a woolen Wilton rug. This rug lasted at least forty years until Jimmie and my ma played basketball in the living room one Christmas season and wore a path going to and from the basket retrieving the ball. While in Chicago, she got an Astrakhan coat from Marshall-Field's and hats and dresses from St. Cloud. During my "teen years", if I saw a dress that I liked in a shop window and I knew it was too expensive, she'd say, "Try it on." And if it fit, she'd buy it for me. Ma was very strict in disciplining her family, but she was very sensitive to beauty and very loyal to us all.

Her health improved during the late 1940's and she became more physically active, especially with my son, Jimmie. They would play ball and at the age of 85 she could hold out her arm shoulder high and kick her leg up to touch her hand. She helped husk corn for canning and "knip" beans. She used a butcher knife to dig out weeds from her "pride and joy" the asparagus bed.

The only song she remembered to sing was "Zu Lauterbach abt ich mein strumpf forlorn; unt onne strumpf geh ich nicht heim. " Della had a trained voice and ma would listen intently when she sang such favorites as: "Du, du liegst mir im Herzen," "Wenn die Schwalben heimwartz ziehn," "Die Himmel riihmen," "Grosser Gott, wir loben dich," "Stille Nacht" and "O Tannenbaum. "

She loved the outdoors and the out door air. Even though it may have been -20 below, her window would be open a foot high. Eventually the eyes must close some day. Two weeks before her death, ma suffered a stroke. The lighted candle Bertha Hockert had received in baptism as a baby at St. Gongolph's Church, Trier, Germany was extinguished. Ma passed away June 3, 1956 at age 97.

Mass of Christian burial was sung at Seven Dolors Church, Millerville on June 7th, 1956 at 9:30a. m. Officiating were Msgr. William A. Renner, nephew of the deceased and our pastor, Father Lawrence Botz The pallbearers were: William and Philip Hopfner, Florian, Claude and Charles Wilken and James Roers. Internment was in the Church cemetery.


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